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Home-grown technology firms help drive eGovernment expansion in East Africa

John Wille's picture



Over the past five years, we have seen the emergence of a number of eGovernment applications and platforms in East Africa, leveraging the growth of internet and smartphone penetration to improve the reach and quality of government service delivery. While a number of these technology solutions, particularly in tax administration, trade facilitation and financial management systems, have been sourced from international providers – based in the United States, India and Singapore – African information and computer technology (ICT) firms have also played a major role in this surge in online service delivery to citizens and businesses.

The use of various “managed service” models, such as eGovernment public-private partnerships (PPPs) and cloud hosting, has allowed even governments with limited in-house ICT capacity to deliver services online in a sustainable manner. The World Bank Group (WBG) has also played an important role in developing the ability of local firms to effectively provide services to government clients by sharing good international practices and by funding the development of these locally grown technology solutions.

Kenya e-Citizen improves revenue generation as it cuts compliance costs for citizens and businesses

This digital services and payment platform – https://www.ecitizen.go.ke/ – was initially piloted in 2014 with seed funding from the Kenya Investment Climate Program of the WBG's Trade & Competitiveness (T&C) Global Practice. The technology platform was developed and is now managed through an outsourcing arrangement by government with a local ICT firm. It has grown organically, expanding from eight government-to-citizen (G2C) and government-to-business (G2B) services to more than 100 today, covering such areas as driver’s licenses, passport and visa applications, company and business name registration, work permit administration and civil registration. Citizens are able to register and obtain login credentials online, through a validation process involving the national ID and SIM card registry databases. They can also pay for services using a variety of methods, including bank transfers, credit cards, MPesa (“mobile wallet”) and other mobile money systems.

The Government Services Digital Payment Programme, which manages the eCitizen platform, reports that there are now more than 4 million registered users with more than 300,000 transactions per month and more than 400 million Kenyan shillings in monthly receipts. An early evaluation by the WBG of the eight initial online services documented more than $1.8 million in compliance cost savings over the first 15 months of operation. This figure is expected to grow dramatically over time. In addition to the cost savings, the eCitizen platform is helping improve trust between citizens and the government by improving access to information as well as by increasing the speed and predictability of service delivery.

Other African governments have taken note of Kenya’s accomplishments: Inquiries and study visits have already come from several other countries.

Rwanda’s “irembo” represents the first major eGovernment PPP in East Africa

Since 2010, Rwanda has emerged as an eGovernment pacesetter in the region, with assistance from the WBG and other donors.  While the government has successfully moved the company, collateral and land registries online – in addition to implementing online and mobile tax filing and tax payment – it was decided that greater participation by the private sector in online service delivery was essential to the more rapid deployment of eGovernment services.

Local entrepreneurs established RwandaOnline, which negotiated a 25-year PPP concession to build and operate a government-wide service delivery and payments platform called irembo (https://irembo.gov.rw/). This arrangement, which employs a Build-Operate-Transfer (BOT) model, is similar in nature to eGovernment PPPs, which are now common among U.S. states (including Maryland and Virginia) and which were more recently adopted in Ghana for tax administration and business registration. Launched in 2015, the irembo platform already offers more than 40 online services through web and mobile channels, with about 45 percent of transactions completed through mobile phones. The goal is to move about 100 services involving national and local governments online within the first three years of operation.

As with Kenya’s eCitizen, users can register using their national ID and mobile phone numbers to obtain login credentials, and can settle payments using credit cards or a mobile-money account. Irembo currently facilitates more than 100,000 applicants per month and normally collects around US$1 per transaction that it facilitates. The service is operated by RwandaOnline, and the firm has a technology agreement with Crimson Logic in Singapore, which is a veteran in the eGovernment PPP space, including ventures that operate electronic single windows for trade in many developing countries.

Locally developed, WBG-owned software applications are modernizing G2B service delivery throughout the region – and beyond

One of the main WBG contributions to the proliferation of online G2B services in East Africa has come through the development and deployment of WBG-owned software applications. For the past four years, the WBG has employed a framework agreement with a panel of African ICT vendors to develop and deploy these technology applications, which was a response to the lack of locally available commercial alternatives. These applications support online trade licensing and construction permitting by local authorities. They also promote improved transparency and accountability through business licensing information portals and business-to-government feedback mechanisms. They are developed using open source tools such as PHP and MySQL, and they are provided license-free to government clients under T&C Advisory Service and lending projects in the region.

These applications have been deployed in a number of African sub-national jurisdictions, including Nairobi and three other counties within Kenya; in Kigali and six other cities in Rwanda; and in Maseru in Lesotho. At the national level, online G2B services in Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya and Zambia have been supported using these technology solutions. Software developers in West Africa and MENA have also received capacity building support, which has recently enabled a localized version of the construction permitting software to be deployed in Kabul, Afghanistan.

This initiative has improved the capacity of software vendors to understand and service government clients. These increased capabilities have enabled larger home-grown technology platforms, such as eCitizen, to evolve. In addition, the sustainability of government technology solutions after donor exit has been a continuing challenge in Africa. The approach of using open source technologies and minimizing licensing costs, as well as employing commercial or government clouds for hosting, is viewed as an attractive alternative by African governments that are facing financial and ICT capacity challenges. 

A vibrant and innovative software industry is developing in East Africa, with the help of the WBG and other donors. The cost-effective commercial technology solutions being developed for both the public and private sectors are helping the region's economies move quickly into the digital world: Many African jurisdictions now offer online G2B services which are comparable to those in middle- and upper-income countries in other regions.